Emotional Appeals

Defining Emotional Appeal

An emotional appeal is used to sway the emotions of an audience to make them support the speaker’s argument.

Learning Objectives

Break down the components that make up an emotional appeal

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Pathos represents an appeal to the emotions of an audience.
  • An emotional appeal uses the manipulation of the emotions rather than valid logic to win an argument.
  • Emotional appeal is a logical fallacy, whereby a debater attempts to win an argument by trying to get an emotional reaction from the opponent and audience.
  • In debating terms, emotional appeals are often effective as a rhetorical device, but are generally considered naive or dishonest as a logical argument, since they often appeal to the prejudices of listeners rather than offer a sober assessment of a situation.

Key Terms

  • logical fallacy: A fallacy; a clearly defined error in reasoning used to support or refute an argument, excluding simple unintended mistakes.

Emotional Appeal Defined

Pathos represents an appeal to the audience’s emotions. Pathos is a communication technique used most often in rhetoric (where it is considered one of the three modes of persuasion, alongside ethos and logos), and in literature, film, and other narrative art.

Emotional appeal can be accomplished in a multitude of ways:

  • By a metaphor or storytelling, common as a hook
  • By a general passion in the delivery
  • By an overall emotion
  • By the sympathies of the speech or writing as determined by the audience

The pathos of a speech or writing is only ultimately determined by the audience.

The Purpose of an Emotional Appeal

An emotional appeal is directed to sway an audience member’s emotions and uses the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions rather than valid logic to win an argument. An emotional appeal uses emotions as the basis of an argument’s position without factual evidence that logically supports the major ideas endorsed by the presenter. In an emotional appeal, persuasive language is used to develop the foundation of an appeal to emotion-based arguments instead of facts. Therefore, the validity of the premises that establish such an argument does not prove to be verifiable.

A US soldier holds his daughter and his son.

Emotional Appeal: A picture like this could be used as an emotional appeal for a charity campaign to increase funding for soldiers’ families.

Emotional appeal is a logical fallacy, whereby a debater attempts to win an argument by trying to get an emotional reaction from the opponent and audience. It is generally characterized by the use of loaded language and concepts (God, country, and apple pie being good concepts; drugs and crime being bad ones). In debating terms, emotional appeals are often effective as a rhetorical device, but are generally considered naive or dishonest as a logical argument, since they often appeal to the prejudices of listeners rather than offer a sober assessment of a situation.

Examples of Emotional Appeals

Children are more often than not toddled out as an appeal to emotion. From pictures of starving children to motivate people to give to charity to using them as any excuse to ban things that children shouldn’t even be aware of (e.g., guns), they are repeatedly paraded in front of audiences to appeal to their emotional protective instincts, often overriding anyone’s sense of rationality. “For the children” or “think of the children” as emotional appeals have been used with success in passing political motions such as Proposition Hate in California.

As with children, cute animals override most people’s logic. Even if the pictures of animal testing put out by PETA are 50 years out of date, they still provoke an emotional response rather than a reasoned one when trying to assess cruelty in animal testing.

Producing an Emotional Appeal

Finding words to match the speech context and audience’s disposition is essential to producing an effective emotional appeal.

Learning Objectives

Identify the components that produce an emotional appeal in a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Producing an emotional appeal requires an understanding of your audience and what may strike their emotions the most.
  • An effective way to create emotional appeal is to use words that have a lot of pathos associated with them. Pathos is an emotional appeal used in rhetoric that depicts certain emotional states.
  • An example of a speech that is particularly effective at producing an emotional response with its listeners is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech uses rhetoric to convey the point of equal opportunity for all people.

Key Terms

  • pathos: An appeal to the audience’s emotions.
  • Disposition: A habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way.
  • rhetoric: The art of using language, especially public speaking, as a means to persuade.

Producing an Emotional Appeal

Producing an emotional appeal requires an understanding of your audience and what may strike their emotions the most.

For example, if you are giving a speech at an event to raise money for a children’s hospital, it would be appropriate to use an appeal to emotions relating to children. For instance, the speaker could use an emotionally charged anecdote about a child who was sick and was cured at this hospital. This story stresses the value that the hospital had on improving the child’s health.

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Emotional Appeals: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream” effectively produced an emotional response from the audience.

In general, an effective way to create emotional appeal is to use words that have a lot of pathos associated with them. Pathos is an emotional appeal used in rhetoric that depicts certain emotional states. Some examples of “pathos” charged words include: strong, powerful, tragic, equality, freedom, and liberty. These words can be used in a speech to intensify an emotional appeal to an audience.

The Emotional Appeals in “I Have a Dream”

An example of a speech that is particularly effective at producing an emotional response with its listeners is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The speech uses rhetoric to convey the point of equal opportunity for all people. It is considered by many as a prime example of successful rhetoric and emotional appeal.

In the speech, Martin Luther King Jr. weaves current events into the fabric of American history, underscoring the tragedy with biblical rhetoric. King hinges his call for change on three refrains, or repeated phrases. He frames his vision for the future with the famous phrase, “I have a dream.”

As his speech draws to a close, he wills his vision to become reality across the country, moving on to the refrain, “Let freedom ring!” He closes his speech with the repeated line, “Free at last!” King articulates cruel injustices, leads us in imagining a world without those injustices, and then appeals to his audiences emotions through these phrases and the idea of a world with equal opportunity.

Ethical Usage

When you make emotional appeals avoid unethical tactics, such as exploitative manipulation.

Learning Objectives

List the types of manipulative techniques used to emotionally appeal to audiences

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Ethos (plural: ethe) is an appeal to the authority or honesty of the presenter.
  • Emotional appeals will encourage the audience to identify with your message on a visceral level, bypassing intellectual filters, such as skepticism and logic.
  • It may be appealing to take a shortcut to making the audience sympathize with your point of view. However, emotional appeals don’t always hold up well after the fact–so fortify your emotional appeal by engaging the intellect, too.

Key Terms

  • ethics: The study of principles relating to right and wrong conduct.
  • manipulation: The usage of psychological influence over a person or situation to gain a positive outcome.
  • ethos: A rhetorical appeal to an audience based on the speaker/writer’s credibility.

Ethical Usage

Emotional appeals are very powerful. When you stir sympathy in your listeners, you encourage them to identify with your message on a visceral level, bypassing intellectual filters, such as skepticism and logic.

However, this may be unethical because you are not allowing your listeners to logically consider your argument and rationally determine how they would react to your argument in absence of an emotional appeal.

It may be appealing to take a shortcut toward making the audience sympathize with your point of view. An emotional appeal may save you the trouble of working out a good argument. However, emotional appeals don’t always hold up well after the fact when your audience has had a chance to process your message.

Therefore, be sure to substantiate your emotional appeal with both logic and facts.

Emotional Manipulation

Since emotional appeals are very strong, they can sometimes be used inappropriately in order to gain something from the audience members.

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Manipulation: Adolf Hitler is an example of a political figure who used emotional manipulation.

For example, an emotional appeal could be used in a political rally to persuade people to vote for the candidate, especially if the vote will happen in the next few days. This emotional appeal may persuade audience members to vote for you or your candidate, but it may also be unethical or considered manipulative if the audience members do not have a chance to rationally process the message before the vote takes place.

This is especially critical for situations, such as politics, which people generally have emotionally charged opinions about.

Some inappropriate uses of manipulative techniques of emotional appeals include:

  • Lying or lying by omission: telling outright falsehoods or misleading by leaving out crucial pieces of information.
  • Denial: refusing to admit that you or your affiliates have done anything wrong.
  • Covert intimidation: using subtle, indirect or implied threats.
  • Guilt tripping: suggesting that the audience does not care enough, is too selfish, or has it easy. Guilt tripping encourages self-doubt and submissive behavior.
  • Shaming: using tactics, such as direct criticism, a fierce look or glance, an unpleasant tone of voice, rhetorical comments, and subtle sarcasm to undermine audience members.
  • Playing the victim: putting on the role of a victim of circumstances or the bad behavior of others in order to evoke sympathy.
  • Vilifying the victim: acting as though the victim of the bad behavior of your (or your associates) did something to deserve negative consequences.
  • Seduction: using charm, praise, and flattery to manipulate others.

In order to ethically portray an emotional appeal, be sure to avoid these inappropriate uses and manipulative techniques for emotional appeals. Emotional appeals can be effective if they are not manipulative and are used to further an honest message.

How to Prove that You are Ethical

Ethos (plural: ethe) is an appeal to the authority or honesty of the presenter. It is how well the presenter convinces the audience that he or she is qualified to present (speak) on the particular subject. It can be done in many ways:

  • By being a notable figure in the field in question, such as a college professor or an executive of a company whose business is that of the subject.
  • By having a vested interest in a matter, such as the person being related to the subject in question.
  • By using impressive logos that show the audience that the speaker is knowledgeable on the topic.
  • By appealing to a person’s ethics or character.